The good: It was a tough season overall for Detroit's defense, especially with all the injuries they suffered in the secondary, but one positive to come out of 2020 when it comes to the cornerback position, is the play of second-year corner Amani Oruwariye. A fifth-round pick in 2019, Oruwariye was probably Detroit's most consistent cornerback all season. Oruwariye played in all 16 games and only allowed opposing receivers to gain at least 75 receiving yards in his coverage in three contests all year.
He gave up three touchdowns, and opposing passers had a 55.3 completion percentage throwing his way. Two of those three touchdowns allowed came in one game against Green Bay Week 14. In his other 15 contests, Oruwariye allowed just one touchdown in his coverage. There seems to be a nice skill set there the new coaching staff can work with.
It was a rather disappointing rookie season overall for Jeff Okudah, but we now know Okudah was dealing with a groin injury that ultimately ended his season and required surgery in December. Okudah said the injury affected his ability to turn his hips and get to full speed on long routes.
While that certainly affected Okudah's ability to cover, the rookie out of Ohio State did show his physical side with a willingness to come up and tackle and be effective in the run game. He recorded 47 tackles and four tackles for loss in just nine games. The expectation is for Okudah to get healthy this offseason and come back a much better overall player in year two.
The bad: We've already reviewed the defensive line play. In that article I talked about the marriage of rush and cover, and how the rush part of that equation wasn't good enough in the passing game for the Lions. The same can be said about the cover part, which is why the Lions finished the season ranked 30th against the pass, allowing 284.9 yards through the air on average per game. Opponents completed 66 passes of 20-plus yards on the Lions' defense this year, which was tied with Atlanta for the most in the NFL.
Injuries really set this cornerback unit back a lot. Okudah missed the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury, and then veterans Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman injured hamstrings Week 1. Trufant, who was one of Detroit's big free-agent signings last offseason after they traded Darius Slay to Philadelphia, played in just six games all year due to hamstring issues. Coleman missed five games. Okudah missed seven. Detroit didn't have its full complement of cornerbacks available to them for an entire game until late October, and even then that didn't last long.
Key stat: Detroit's defense recorded 12 takeaways all season, second fewest in the NFL (Las Vegas, 9). The Lions' seven interceptions were the second fewest behind Houston's three. Detroit's cornerbacks accounted for just four interceptions all year with Oruwariye, Okudah, Trufant and Darryl Roberts each collecting one apiece.
Free agents: Roberts and fellow veteran Tony McRae are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this offseason. Mike Ford is a restricted free agent.
Roberts stepped in when needed all season long as Detroit dealt with injuries. He showed an ability to play inside and outside, and fit where needed. He's a good depth player. Ford has been a special teams mainstay and plug-and-play depth defender on defense the last three seasons in Detroit.
McRae's biggest contribution came on special teams, where Detroit was solid all season.
Draft: With Okudah, Oruwariye, Trufant and Coleman all under contract, the Lions have a solid foundation to build on at the cornerback position, assuming Okudah comes back healthy and more consistent and Oruwariye continues to develop. After taking Okudah with the No. 3 pick last season, and seeing who's still under contract at the position, it seems unlikely the Lions would spend another high pick on the position, but that's obviously for the new regime to decide. Cornerbacks are like pass rushers, a team can never have too many that can help.
Alabama's Patrick Surtain II is considered the top cornerback available in this year's draft. Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley and Washington's Elijah Molden are a couple others to watch early on.
MVP: In a year where Detroit struggled to field a consistent cornerback group, Oruwariye had the best ability of all – availability. He played in all 16 games (15 starts) and was Detroit's most consistent performer at the position by far.
Quotable: "I think 2020 was definitely a year of growth," Okudah said after the season. "Really, since I've been playing football, just my most adverse year with everything I had to go through, me myself and as a team. I know for me personally, it was just a different year. Just having to deal with injuries, and obviously you want to win more when you're a competitor. Obviously, you want to play better from that perspective. It was really hard to come to terms with just not playing to the standards of the City of Detroit and what they expect to see out there.
"I think going forward, definitely have that on my mind and definitely something that's really going to fuel my hunger this offseason. Not necessarily trying to prove everyone wrong, just trying to prove a lot of people right."